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Games, Games, Games!
August 14, 2014 - 7:42pm

Last week, I attended HILT (Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching), which is a digital humanities week-long training in the vein of DHSI. I took Anastasia Salter’s course, Games in the Humanities Classroom. Anastasia is brilliant and wonderful and you should definitely buy her new What is Your Quest? From Adventure Games to Interactive Books. She challenged us to build a game a day for five days. We did seven. You can see the Prezi of our class’ presentation to the group, plus check out #hilt2014 on Twitter for all the goodness that was last week.

The two games I am most proud of making are my Endless Adjunct Run game, using Construct 2, and a still-in-progress interactive fiction adaptation of Dany Laferriere’s first novel using Inform 7.  One of the things I most appreciated about Anastasia’s teaching style (on top of her being SO SUPER PATIENT while we all continually broke things and I continually demanded her attention) was that she always connected the process of making and playing games to the process of learning within the classroom environment. Card games that continually change the rules. Platforms that demand prior knowledge and understanding. Scaffolding and modeling. Design intent.

The list goes on.

You can see all of her marvelous presentation slides through that first link above. I honestly didn’t think I would accomplish all that I did, and I have been spending the rest of this week further refining my Inform 7 game (and one day I’ll get back into Twine, I swear). All of these games, however, required us to be critical and reflective about the choices we made, even in a short period of time, around the game environments we created.

I created Endless Adjunct Run because I wanted something to reflect the…futility many of us off the tenure-track feel. Anastasia wanted is in this particular platform to create our own meta-academic game. When I shared the game last week, people called it addictive, but also cursed me for creating a game they couldn’t stop playing, but also one that cut a little too close to reality.  Go and play it. See if you can figure out the rules, how to play, what the goal is. I’ll give you a second…

You start with four classes. A book means you pick up a class, the friendly-looking chair takes classes away. Too many classes, the game ends. Too few, same thing. And then there’s the ever-present pits of doom that also do you in. There is no way to win the game, either, no end point to reach, no end of the game other than “death.” The rules are purposefully vague; those who are used to platform games usually know that the space bar means jump, but those who aren’t as familiar are left struggling at first. There is no indication of what the scores are, and you have to figure it out as you go. And really, even getting good at the game doesn’t really ensure any sort of success.

METAPHOR!

Ahem. I’m really proud of it. It was built using a template through Construct 2, which is one of the greatest parts of the platform. I chose an endless running game as my template and then adapted my own “sprites”, extra rules regarding scoring, background, etc. They have jumping games, space-shooting games, all familiar and basic 2D platformer games of old. You can export the games in HTML5 or for mobile environments. It was really easy to use (once you get the hang of it, or maybe it was easy because Anastasia was there), and for the first time in a long, long time, I am a little disappointed I have a Mac and not a PC because Construct 2 is only available for PCs.

More scholarly, I’m still working on adapting Dany Laferriere’s first novel in Inform 7, which created text-based interactive fiction. Anastasia challenged us to create a one-room puzzle that needs to be solved in order for the player to “win.” I immediately thought of the apartment that Laferriere spends most of his time in during the first novel, essentially procrastinating about writing. Perfect. Also, as Laferriere obsessively adapts and rewrites his own works, I thought it would be a project that captures the spirit of his over-all oeuvre. After fighting with the very particular syntax, I have created the rules of the game, but still have to fill in the details, taken from the book.

Because of my work on Laferriere, I have been really interested in the question of adaptation, and games are another area where I can further explore (and have my students explore) the idea of adaptation, manipulation, and revision, which is another way that they can interact and interpret the text (and show it!). It’s another tool, another possibility (and, hey, a card game or a board game would be great, too, as an adaptation; I played Monty Python and The Quest for the Holy Grail Fluxx – and by the way, it’s my birthday, and I don’t actually own my own version…).

But mostly, I had one of the best weeks of my life, discovering and doing wonderfully fun and wonderfully fulfilling activities that were also mentally stimulating. Next year, HILT is moving to Indianapolis, and a certain someone familiar might be teaching a course there…

Stay tuned! 

 

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